Picturing my mother

I grew up in a dysfunctional family, like most people. Or maybe it was just my mother who was dysfunctional. I was the oldest of three sisters and a parental child by the age of nine. Parenting your own parent as a child leaves you with a big responsibility, yet no power. I was robust and probably better qualified for that role than my sweet sisters. I was assertive, even abrasive from childhood, formidable before I finished primary school. Eccentric too I guess, but who isn’t somewhat eccentric anyway?

My mother was a phenomenon. Creative, impetuous, vigorous, and at her best, exuding radiance and gumption but also easily irritated, most of the times irked and frequently furious over the pettiest things. She was witty and garrulous but once she started gossiping she didn’t know where to stop and what had started as a rather innocuous hearsay, could become the ugliest defamation, once she had added her strong colors.

She was pretty, with her high cheekbones and mahogany hair but not what you would call beautiful. She constantly worried about her looks but didn’t do much about it apart from using makeup and manicure. She never exercised and when she was trying to lose weight, she would include some caramels in her weight loss diet. She was a culture snob and claimed to be well read but her knowledge of most things was superficial. She was very interested in genealogy and her special area in that field was wrong paternity. According to her theory, almost all Icelandic women had gotten pregnant by someone other than their husbands. Today I think her bad mouthing was a lame method of forgetting about her guilty feeling instead of dealing with it.

In some ways, she was a great mother. She took a pride in decorating our home, was very creative in that field and in spite of tight budget she made our bedrooms absolutely beautiful. With almost no money she sewed curtains and funny pillows, painted pictures on the walls and made us all kinds of small and cheerful things that we enjoyed showing to our friends. She would read for us almost every day, she taught me rhymes and verses at early age and maybe that is the best gift I have ever received from anyone.

When I was little, I adored my mother as much as I feared her. I thought she was the most beautiful and brilliant being on earth and I wanted to grow up to be just like she, apart from becoming a late sleeper and moody in the morning, which was the only fault I could see in her until my early teens. Fortunately, I had changed my mind by the age of thirteen, realizing that her unpredictable change of mood was not just a sign of a capricious personality.

Not as brilliant as I thought she was, she was, however, bright and independently thinking, and when it came to religion, she was more than just skeptical. And she didn’t just talk. My first encounter with activism was at home. In our tiny village, there was an orphans’ home, ruled by Christian maniacs who believed in corporal punishment and allowed the children almost no contact with the rest of us outside the schoolyard. Most of the children were not actual orphans but had been placed there because their parents were for some reasons disqualified. My mother was the only one who did something about it. She went to my school and talked to the children and then she called their relatives and exposed the shame. The children who were living there at that time were all taken away, hopefully to a better place and then my mother bravely fought the church and the rural district council, until the home was abolished.

She could be more than just assertively expressing her views on Christianity. One day some women from the Salvation Army came to our door, selling their journal, I think, or maybe it was just a booklet with Christmas stories for children, at least nothing as serious as an invitation to join the congregation. My mother bought the whole box, and once she had her hand on it, she suddenly changed her appearance and fulminated over the Christian ladies. Most of it I have fortunately forgotten but I remember that she told these Jesus’ devoted soldiers, where to put their ‘blood and gore’. ‘Actually, it’s blood and fire’ one of them said, politely, probably trying to calm her down. ‘Then fire shall it be! Alas! Alas! Let your blood and gore burn in Hell, you woebegone hypocrites!’ my mother shouted. Then she placed the cardboard box with the magazine copies in a snowdrift outside the house and burned it. The Christian ladies literally ran away and must have thought that she was possessed. She wasn’t hosting an evil spirit though, not even symbolically. We may look upon rage as an evil spirit, but she was not controlled by rage, not at that time. She may have been a little crazy but she was in good control, barely expressing her feelings for Christianity and its bigot emissaries. She laughed when they had left her property.

She was not so well composed when she laid my little sister´s bedroom waste, because she, at the age of four, had yet not learned the importance of keeping her surroundings clean. My sister is forty now, she still remembers our mother´s outburst, yet she still has not learned the eternal and indisputable importance of making her bed every day. (The strange thing is that neither has our mother, she was never a compulsive cleaner, just used any excuse for behaving like a beast.) When she came to her senses, our mother sewed my sister some doll clothes as recompense. But she never apologized.

Being an atheist, my mother was surprisingly superstitious. She believed that the spirits of the dead were walking amongst us and all of them seemed to take a special interest in her. At least none of them ever spoke to anyone else in the family or for that matter to anyone else. She would make Ouija boards to help the dead get their messages through, the dead prevailed over her dreams, telling her what to do and asking some favors from her. She heard their footsteps at night and there was a period when I was around 12 years when I also thought I heard something. In my teens her ghost believe became exuberant. Once she wanted me to go to church with her at midnight to wake some dead person from his grave, (I never got her to explain what she wanted from him) and one day some dead bastard started writing through her. His style and handwriting were unbelievably similar to hers. I was fifteen by then and had dispatched all this ghostly talk as shenanigans.

Considering my innate skepticism, along with my mother´s view on religion, I could hardly have grown up as a religious child, but from the early age, I was however interested in religion, both the mythology and the ethics. I did not believe in a personal God, who would hold me responsible for all my sins, but I was convinced that the human mind hosted some great power, great enough to affect the outer world. I believed in the power of words, especially lyrics. I was little and weak and unable to defend myself, so rather than fight back I would flinch if I was attacked. Then I would revenge by chanting a homemade verse, cursing the (12 year old) hoodlum who had offended me, convinced that one way or another, justice would penetrate. I never saw that happen but I felt powerful, and that is what magic is all about.

Later, when my mother’s approach to problems had developed as an exhausting personality disorder, with tantrums pending and the atmosphere in our home subdued with fear and insecurity, I cursed her. Nothing as bad as dying from a terrible disease or anything like that, but I drew some runes in the sand on the shore and wished she would put on more weight. I followed my spell through by learning to cook and bake. It worked perfectly.

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